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Who's pulling your strings?
mylimbo26 March 2006
A faith healer who appears from nowhere suddenly cures the sick son of a profound government senator, whom the politicians wife falls under the mysterious healer's charm and the young boy grows attached to his company. The senator can't shake the idea that there's something strange about all of this, could it all be a hypnotic trick or is there something really supernatural going on here. Then you got the chief political adviser who's trying to rid the healer of power he holds over the senator and his family, because he wants to be the one who's in control of the senator.

Was it all an illusion? Who was playing whom? Did this go beyond reality, by making way for supernatural influences? Like you see there are so many question brought up here that are totally left unexplained, but this enigmatic factor of who, what and why makes for one curious, but oddly enchanting spectacle. The multi-layered story plays out like political fantasy where it throws around many different ideas and allegories into the blend, where nothing seems quite like what it is because of a real mystical edge that's given out by Powell's charismatic character Wolfe. As an exhilarating tale, it failed for me, but for a curiosity piece, it really did work. The plot's outline shares its similarities with the Rasputin account, but this film has gone with a contemporary take on the story. The story does become incredibly strange with certain circumstances and situations, in which you have to suspend your disbelief and plays around with psychological tension. The thick air of mystery that's planted in the film, you could say is like that of a jigsaw puzzle that's missing some important pieces to give it that truly satisfying feel. The complex script is heavy on its parallel theories and it very much comes across like a poetic riddle (that's most of Powell's lines anyway) with it parables and psychic jargon. It's a very talkative piece with little significant details and hints running throughout it very mischievous layout on who's really the manipulator and just what are everyone's true intentions.

The film, which was made in Australia, looks reasonably good, even though it had a modest budget to work with. By today's standards the appearance and even the context is somewhat dated. The special effects are reasonably modest, with the odd hokey effect, but I guess you just got to take it with a grain of salt. The mostly well devised FXs were well orchestrated in to the story, but it does go over-the-top in the third act were the uneven pacing makes way for some flamboyant magic tricks for the fight of control over the senator. At least they were spot on with it, but they do and as well as the costumes give it an underlining campy b-grade charm. The location setting was simply ravishing and the exterior of the senator's house (were it all mostly plays out) is given a grand feel. The glitzy cinematography was remarkably well handled with some showy moments and Brian May's tenderly spooky score had a stinging, but emotional rush too it. Director Simon Wincer manages to come up with some inspired, solid visuals and tiny pockets of heighten and exciting suspense. But some moments are half-baked and it has an climax that doesn't feel like it has paid off. You just feel like it's working up for something big. However it does fit in with its subtle moodiness.

The performances are very first-rate with an international cast on show. Robert Powell plays the healer, Wolfe and his piercing capabilities create such subtly mysterious imprint (good or evil?) that you can't help but be intrigued by. David Hemmings' underplayed performance as senator Nick Rast shows a real solidarity. Broderick Crawford superbly plays Doc Wheelan a greedy political leader who overlooks Senator Rast and when he's on screen his presence truly governs the film. Carmen Duncan as Sandra Rast simply shines in her feisty role and Mark Spain utterly fits the role of eerie young lad Alex Rast. I thought the chemistry of the relationships was well thought up and naturally suitable.

What is served up here is exceedingly ambiguous and different, but this creative project has more going for it then what actually meets the eye. It's far from flawless and it wasn't what I expecting that's for sure, but it does make for an interesting viewing.
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Remember the Czar??
Chinook-311 February 2000
Fascinating, dark study of a political family seduced by the powers of a traveling magician who befriends their ill son. The story works well on that level, and the acting is certainly passable enough to be entertaining.

Even more fascinating when one realizes that this is a retelling of the historical plot of the fall of the Czar of Russia! In history, Nicholas (Nicky in this film) and Alexandra (Sandy) had and extremely ill son, Alexander (Alex) and allowed the "Mad Monk" Gregory Rasputin (Gregory Wolfe) into the family with his promises of a cure for the the boy. Viewed on this level, this interesting enough B-movie become a fascinating study in parallels. Well worth a rental and some time to enjoy!
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Shades of the Romanov.
dbdumonteil11 April 2004
Intriguing supernatural thriller which keeps -at least till its last sequences -special effects to the minimum and mainly relies on Robert Powell's fascinating presence -whatever you think of Zephirelli's work,you cannot deny he was perhaps the best Jesus on the screen- and the rest of the cast follows suit.Actually the little boy's and Powell's relationship reminds me more of that of Damien and his sinister nanny in "the omen" (see their power on animals) than Rasputin and the czar's son.But Sandra 's behavior is Alexandra's under Grigori the monk's spell.And their surname,"Rast" is "tsar" backwards!

Rasputin's motives were mysterious ,and he moved in a political world where his influence was huge when it came to ruling the country .Wolf's reasons why constantly elude the viewer's perception,and it justifies the hints at comedia della arte and Harlequin :like Rasputin ,he tried to open his master's eyes.

Rasputin's death has remained even today wrapped in mystery :poison (but documents were found which would tend to prove poison was not efficient and that the killers -Iusupov and Dimitri- were amateurs.) then the gun (four shots in the back),but when they found the dead body in the frozen river,they had to admit he did not die of his wounds.Hence the conclusion of the movie which would pass for another "Friday the 13th" rip-off ,if history were not here.

But connections with "the omen" remain:Powell trying to enlighten the senator is not unlike the priest trying to persuade Peck his son was evil;both movies take place in the political world.And the last pictures of the two movies are very similar.

Watch it:although by no means a masterpiece,it's above average and would deserve a better rating.
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Superb !
ichobodcrane2 January 2003
I saw this film in my youth and after years of searching for it, finally taped it off the telly. Robert Powel is exceptional as the title character as is David Hemmings as the senator. There are a few films out there that can just bewitch you as you're watching them, The Wickerman being the best example, but this one comes very close. If you see this little gem airing on your TV in the wee small hours I urge you to tape it.
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Odd mixing of fantasy & political thriller.
Paul Andrews19 May 2007
Warning: Spoilers
Harlequin is set in Australia where deputy governor Eli Steele (Jack Ferrari) disappears while snorkeling in the sea, a rescue team is dispatched within minutes but no trace of the governor is found. 4 year old Alex (Mark Spain) is the son of Senator Nick Rast (David Hemmings) who is next in line for Eli's high powered job, Alex has leukaemia & is no longer responding to treatment. One night the Rast's family home is visited by Gregory Wolfe (Robert Powell) who claims he can cure Alex, after just a few minutes with him Alex seems so much better. As Wolfe manages to work his way into Senator Rast's life & sleeps with his wife Sandra (Carmen Duncan) it becomes clear he has more on his agenda than just curing his son...

This Australian production was directed by Simon Wincer & is an odd film which is sort of hard to categorize, I thought it was watchable but nothing particularly special. The script by Everett De Roche takes itself extremely seriously & is a uneasy mix of mild horror, fantasy, thriller, drama & political satire. There are two basic stories here, one concerning the mysterious Wolfe & one revolving around the back stabbing world of politics where it seems sinister unseen people other than those who stand in front of the cameras & give speeches run things. I think Harlequin is a film where the filmmakers want to leave entirely up to the audiences own interpretation as to whether you believe the supernatural angle or whether it's all a magic con trick although there are scenes which seem to suggest there are magical forces at work because there is no other explanation for them. I think the magic vs science plot here doesn't sit together that well & they don't compliment each other, in fact I think they take something away from each other. Just my opinion but overall I don't think Harlequin works that well & ends up being confusing.

Director Wincer does OK but it has little style, the special effects won't impress anyone these days & it's just a bit on the dull side. Nothing that exciting happens, it's not scary, it has no tension & lacks any atmosphere. I don't know maybe I'm missing something here but Harlequin just didn't really do anything for me, it's watchable I suppose but I'll have totally forgotten about it by the end of the week. This film has helped me in one sense though, it has taught me not to keep acid in the bathroom, not to keep acid in the bathroom next to the shampoo & definitely not to keep acid in the bathroom next to the shampoo in exactly the same style bottle as the shampoo because that would just be silly wouldn't it?

Technically the film is OK, some of the special effects look dated but it's reasonably well made for what it is. The acting isn't the best, Powell does alright but no ones going to win any awards.

Harlequin is an odd film & one I'm not entirely sure who it's meant to appeal to, it's perfectly watchable & tells a story but it's forgettable & nothing special. Not really my cup of tea to be honest.
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Curiously supernatural
DeeDee-1026 May 2000
As a long-time fan of Robert Powell, I have to say he was fantastic in this little known film, which I saw under the title "Dark Forces." The actor's ability is far under rated -why, I'll never know. This tale of a mysterious being entering the lives of a family was curiously spiritual as well as supernatural. I even found Powell quoting a line from his masterpiece "Jesus of Nazareth." There were some unanswered questions in the film, but I wasn't bothered by this. After all, the supernatural leaves a lot of gaps for us to dwell on and come up with our own conclusions.
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Not As Good As I Remembered
Theo Robertson14 July 2005
I saw this in 1983 and remembered it as a very haunting supernatural drama so I made a point in staying up late tonight to watch it on TV . Unfortunately it's one of these movies that disappoints after seeing it again after a very lengthy period . When it's good it's very good but there's not enough good moments . Thankfully the ending still compels when Wolfe returns to tell Rast what's going on plot wise but much of the movie revolves around long talkative scenes

The major problem with HARLEQUIN is that it's an Australian movie . There's nothing wrong with that in itself but as well as being a supernatural drama it's also a political thriller but does the machinations of Australian state politics interest a potential audience compared to global American politics ? In other words just think of how more thought provoking the story could have been if Wolfe had befriended the family of a man who's running for party nomination for presidential candidate . Wouldn't that have made for a better , more thought provoking film ? We can all understand how powerful a potential candidate for US President is but for much of the movie I was scratching my chin as to what's the big deal about deputy governor of an unnamed Australian state

Despite my disappointment HARLEQUIN is if not a great movie it's far from being a bad one . Robert Powell doesn't go over the top in a role that demands much subtlety while David Hemmings likewise plays Senator Rast in a cleverly understated manner . Despite the obvious parallels to the legend of Rasputin , directing that seems better suited to a TVM and some underwhelming special effects the last twenty minutes are nothing less than nail biting and I still recommend this movie as long as you've got the patience to stay with it
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Great vehicle for its three main actors.
Scott LeBrun13 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
"Harlequin" a.k.a. "Dark Forces" offers up an interesting, provocative story that is essentially a 1980's updating of the real-life Rasputin legend, in which a mysterious stranger, here named Gregory Wolfe (Robert Powell) works his way into the lives of a powerful senator, Nick Rast (David Hemmings), his wife Sandra (Carmen Duncan), and their leukemia stricken son Alex (Mark Spain). He does this by seeming to cure the boy of his disease, and before long Sandra, whose marriage to Nick was an arranged one in the first place, develops a substantial attachment to the man. For much of the time, as this story plays out, screenwriter Everett De Roche (whose other cool credits include "Roadgames", "Razorback", and "Patrick") and director Simon Wincer (who went on to have a career in Hollywood with movies such as "D.A.R.Y.L.", "Free Willy", and "The Phantom") keeps things nicely ambiguous: What really are the intentions of Mr. Wolfe? Is he angel or devil? Did he in fact cure the boy? And are there genuine supernatural forces to be reckoned with here? The political angle also adds to the intrigue as we are eventually made to think about who is truly manipulating whom. A solid cast - also prominently featuring the legendary Broderick Crawford in one of his final film roles, as well as Gus Mercurio, a busy actor in Australian cinema, makes the most of the material, especially Powell, who definitely seems to be quite enjoying himself. Hemmings is effectively low key while Duncan has a warm and alluring presence and young Spain is rather good as the weird kid. All in all, the movie is good enough that some awfully cheesy special effects can be tolerated. In any event, the movie never becomes ABOUT the special effects, so it's not that important anyway. Excellent widescreen photography and a wonderful music score by the always reliable Brian May are heavy assets. The ending, which may not be terribly satisfying to some, is admittedly more subtle than one might expect. And De Roche, Wincer, and company know how to keep the element of mystery going the entire time and leaving an intriguing concept of "what next" as it wraps up. Overall, "Harlequin" is intelligent enough, and too ambitious to be easily dismissed, and is worth a look for film fans looking for something a little different. Seven out of 10.
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Very strange and unconvincing film
Coventry25 March 2005
Despite a potentially rich premise and the presence of David Hemmings (a personal favorite of mine) , this was a rather disappointing and overly confusing film. The plot more or less is a bizarre re-working of the Rasputin legend and revolves on a charismatic magician who infiltrates in a political family to cure the son of his leukemia, but then continues with interfering in the husband's career as a replacement-senator. This terrifically mystic idea is pretty much ruined by a bad script, a whole lot of supernatural mumbo-jumbo and a wooden performance by Robert Powell. I was hoping to see some exciting horror effects and eerie make up but "Harlequin" is very tame and lifeless. David Hemmings is okay, and so is the young actor Mark Spain. Especially after his cure, he turns into a spooky and mysterious little brat. In short: this easily could have been one of the most ingenious fantasy-tales of the eighties but it became a failure instead. Director Wincer went on directing less ambitious and more comic movies such as "Harley Davidson and the Marlboro Man", "Free Willy" and "Crocodile Dundee in LA".
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Chinook-3 is exactly right!
bamptonj12 October 2001
Very compelling 80s Aussie horror/thriller. Personally, I found this title one of producer Anthony Ginnane's better films.

Once again, this is one of those Ginnane's movies that was marketed distinctively at international audiences rather than domestically. This can be seen by the creators' reluctance to rely upon any national stereotypes that are perhaps more prevalent in other Australian movies feature foreigners in starring roles, for instance THE SUNDOWNERS, SUMMER OF THE SEVENTEENTH DOOL, ON THE BEACH etc. This is very much an international film. The political "scandal" in the movie could just have easily occurred in Norway. The movie itself is quite ingenious and is B-grade only in budget and perhaps the choice of actors, though most of these faces would be more immediately known at home. Everything is top notch and David Hemmings once again kicks arse. I guess if you liked THIRST and THE SURVIVOR you should see this - you won't regret it! Once again equipped with a delightful score by the deceased legend, Brian May.
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dated now but excellent all same
FFAxDAVID10 September 2005
seen a lot of stuff with robert powel in,but this has always been the one that stands out as his best to me.

Naturaly being 1980 its now an old and well used format but at time it was excellent,and even now i find it an enjoyable film.

The story is bought in gradualy but at a steady pace,the acting is enjoyable over all,and considering the lack of blood and guts it still holds its own as a decent spooky movie that when i was younger made me jump a few times and stayed in my mind for a good few months afterwards,not least because it was the sort of film everyone in my school talked about when saw it,and made other kids not having seen it want to!
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Effective mix of political and supernatural thriller
gridoon201824 November 2016
Warning: Spoilers
Robert Powell, fresh from what is arguably his most famous role (Jesus Christ), plays here another character who can perform miracles, although this time he is more ambiguous and enigmatic. Is he an angel or a demon? What does he want? Just how powerful are his powers, and how did he get them? Can he die? Some of these questions are answered, some are not, but the film certainly keeps you guessing, and Powell's performance is mesmerizing: you never know what he is going to do next. As films about telekinetic and/or magic powers go, "Harlequin" is not quite in the same league as "The Medusa Touch' or "The Fury", but it's not bad at all. **1/2 out of 4.
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K M20 April 2007
I work in the media and from a professional point of view I think this film is amazing. You have to take into consideration that the film is an independent one and for the standards it is at, it incredible. The story has great potential if a little confusing at times but definitely worth a watch. On a more personal level Robert Powell is HOT!!! Especially in tight leather pants. The outfits he has to wear are rather strange and he sometimes looks like David Bowie's twin brother with his make up on and his nails painted! I half expected him to burst into a song from 'The labyrinth'. His acting is superb as always. If you like him in this you have to watch '39 steps' it is equally as good with a fascinating plot.

K :)
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Rrrobert1 June 2013
Like many Antony I Ginnane productions this one boasts some minor league international 'name' actors (Broderick Crawford, David Hemmings), along with some Australian TV celebrities known for soap opera acting roles (Carmen Duncan, Mark Spain, Alyson Best, Sean Myers, Julia Moody, Bevan Lee, John Frawley) and late night commercials spruiking land deals in Mt Evelyn, Victoria (Gus Mercurio). And as with most Ginnane productions, the story involves mystery, intrigue, and some low-budget supernatural events.

Unfortunately it is one of the more muddled outputs of the Ginnane stable. The script seems clunky with a Harold Holt style disappearance, a Rasputin type healer, political intrigue, and a Damien Thorne type diabolical tyke. The story never really seems to come together and the various elements seem confusing.

Robert Powell is great to watch and he sports some fab costumes. Sadly with the murky story the viewer soon becomes engrossed in spotting things like the costumes and makeup, former (and future - Jeremy Sims) screen stars, Carmen Duncan's range of hairdos, and the décor and views of the mansion in which much of the action takes place. Not a good sign.

The score by Brian May seems incongruous and heavy handed.
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A trite story only interesting in its ineptitude
jadavix5 April 2016
Warning: Spoilers
"Harlequin" plays like, and for most of its run time actually is, a kid's movie about a magic man who comes through the TV screen to heal a sickly child and work other miracles. You fully expect a tear jerker ending in which the magic man has to go back to his home planet, or where ever he comes from, but the kid will never forget him and neither will his parents.

Then it abruptly changes gear and expects us to be scared of the magic man. Does the movie think that we are as ignorant and stupid and corrupt as the movie's real bad guys, the politicians the child's dad knows?

The plot: A sickly child of an up and coming senator is apparently healed by a mysterious stranger who performs as a clown at his birthday party. The stranger returns, "coming through the TV", and the child continues to get better. The senator doesn't trust him, but his wife, more interested in the kid's health, is prepared to let the mystery of this stranger be.

People start asking questions, and the stranger performs more tricks, first as a magician, then a faith healer for an old lady at a party. The crooked politician's friends want to see him disappear however, and will clearly stop at nothing.

It's like the story of Rasputin crossed with "Being There".

"Harlequin" is a trite little horror-fantasy with little horror and little fantasy. For almost all of the runtime there is nothing surprising in the movie at all. You can see every plot point coming, until the movie's sudden insistence that I would be scared by a character it does nothing to make seem a force of evil. The twist ending doesn't work because from what we have seen, the main character is the LEAST evil of all the characters in the movie! Hence the moment when we realise he - of course - isn't really dead is not scary, it's reassuring. I don't know how they stuffed that up so badly; it's shown like something you are supposed to be truly shocked by, but the feeling it brings is, if anything, the exact opposite, coupled with that feeling of annoyance you get when a movie misses what it's aiming at completely.

The actor who plays the kid is also singularly uncharismatic, and an awful actor. And why did they go out of their way to disguise the movie's Australian origin?
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Very enjoyable and intriguing slice of the supernatural
simon-11822 April 2000
harlequin is a fun film and very entertaining. It's problem is that it seems to get a bit confused as to what it's all about. Robert powell, one of the most underused talents of modern times, shies as Wolfe, and there are some excellent moments exploiting his strengths, such as those intense blue eyes and angelic yet sinister demeanour. A scene at the start with Powell as a clown is particularly intriguing. The Rasputin illusions are noticeable, but here is where the film's weakness lies. Unlike Rasputin, who was gaining control of the affairs of no less than the Tsar of russia, Gregory wolfe hewre seems to be fascinated by a minor Australian politician, and when we can see what he is capable of himself one can't help thinking that Nick must seem a rather trivial target for his talents. It would be interesting to speculate that unlike us, Wolfe can see that nick will become important in the future and therefore warrants the attention he is being given but there is no attempt made in the film to explain this. Wolfe's relationship with Sandra is equally baffling, veering at random from rejection to seduction. The locations are generally rather dull and the film looks cumbersome, there being little elegance in the composition, all muddy colour and blocks of contrasting images, like a 70s American commercial. But on the plus side, the story keeps one intrigued, Powell is fascinating, his appearance in the window, distorted, is superb, and the final scene with Hemmings at his mercy in the house is pretty chilling. Certainly a good discussion can ensue after viewing for those in the mood!
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